What is next for Hispanics in the US?

This story appears in the Transition to Trump feature series. View the full series.

by Michael Sean Winters

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Speaking with Catholic scholars and leaders who study the intersection of religion and politics about Donald Trump's election as president, it is apparent that the mood is somewhere between fearful and apocalyptic.

Nowhere is the fear more obvious than in the Hispanic community.

"Many elements in the campaign that led Mr. Trump to the presidency unfortunately inspired some of the worst sentiments that today have many Hispanics wondering what will be next, " said Hosffman Ospino, professor of theology at Boston College. "The threat of massive deportations, the potential separation of families, the possibility of losing access to vital social services, the rise of xenophobic attitudes, the detriment of moral discourse, the instrumentalization of religion for political gain, among others, are real concerns for millions of Hispanics and our children. These concerns cannot be taken lightly. The new president of the United States cannot ignore them if he is to be truly a president for all."

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, speaking at a prayer service two days after the election, put the incoming administration on notice that the Catholic church intends to stand by immigrants.

"In the past couple days since the election -- we have children in our schools who are scared. They think the government is going to come and deport their parents, any day now," Gomez said. "Right now -- all across this city, and in cities all across this country -- there are children who are going to bed scared. There are men and women who can't sleep because they are trying to figure out what to do next, trying to figure what to do when the government comes to take them away from their kids and their loved ones."

He pledged vigilance against any efforts to deport immigrants. "Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented -- we will never leave you alone. ¡En las buenas y en las malas! In good times and in bad, we are with you. You are family. We are brothers and sisters," he said.

Some of the fear is directed specifically at what Trump will do in other areas. Professor Stephen Schneck of the Catholic University of America expects Trump to be a disaster for the economy.

"Trump's economic policies are judged to be a nightmare by all sides," Schneck said. "His trade barriers will drive up prices of imports. He has no fix for Social Security or Medicare. His lavish spending plans will explode the national debt. His taxes policies will devastate the middle class. A major recession is inescapable in which unemployment will skyrocket -- probably to occur just when all his shredding of the safety net for the poor will have been completed."

Schneck's sense of how Trump will handle foreign policy quickly turns apocalyptic.

"In foreign policy, existing American alliances will be re-evaluated or dismissed, while Trump cozies with the thugs and dictators of the world," Schneck warned. "Middle East peace efforts and alliances will be replaced with 'bombing the shit' out of anything we can fly a plane over. Carefully brokered treaties to control the spread of nuclear weapons will get tossed on the trash heap of history, and we will enter a frightening world where nuclear weapons are in the hands of any government that wants them."

Shifting to the deep concern about Trump's psychological fitness for office, Schneck added, "And, of course, here in the Unites States, it will be our 3 a.m. Tweeter-in-Chief with the launch codes."

Cathleen Kaveny's take on how this election result came to be touched on some of the deep undercurrents of political life.

"In his brilliant discussion of prophets, Abraham Joshua Heshchel talked about three centers of energy: logos (mind), pathos (gut), and ethos (sense of the core community)," Kaveny, a law professor at Boston College, explained. "Those categories, in my view, are helpful in understanding political leadership more generally. It seems to me what we have seen in Trump's election is a repudiation of a style of leadership centered on logos -- or rationally based policy judgments. The priority of a cool, rationalist, and detached approach to policy-making was widely seen to characterize the Obama administration -- and the Clintons.

"In contrast, Trump goes with his gut feeling -- and effectively communicated to significant segments of the electorate that he feels their pain, and their frustration at the state of their prospects. Hillary never did that -- which explains the popularity of Bernie Sanders."

Looking ahead, however, Catholic scholars turn to the theological virtue of hope, however difficult it is to achieve in the aftermath of an election they view as such a disaster.

"What can the Catholic church do now?" asked Kaveny. "Continue to be a church that cares for everyone. And while we're at it, let's change the translation of 'pro multis' back to 'for all' rather than 'for many.' It seems especially important these days to stress the fact that God's saving love extends to everyone -- not just white Anglo-Saxon Protestants."

Ospino is similarly convinced the Catholic church has a role to play.

"What is next for Hispanics and everyone else in our nation? We must remain involved in the socio-political processes of our nation, perhaps more than ever before," he said. "Hispanics are integral to this country's social fabric with our values and contributions. For those of us who are Catholic, it is imperative that we draw from the best sources of our faith tradition to express ourselves with prophetic voice every time the dignity of the human person is not fully affirmed. We live in a time in which we are called to be authentically Hispanic, Catholic, and American."

The soul-searching has begun about how Trump won, and what the result tells us about the state of our country. The prognostications? Who knows.

Trump has confounded the commentariat and the pollsters all year: Why would he stop now? But if he wants to unite the country, he will need to wrestle with the fears these scholars raise.

[Michael Sean Winters writes about the intersection of faith and politics at NCRonline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic.]

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 2-15, 2016 print issue under the headline: What is next for Hispanics in the US?.

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